Saturday, July 28, 2007

But This is ET for God's Sake!

I don't know how many of you read the Economic Times -- I don't, regularly that is -- but I was just flipping the pages over The Porcelain Throne (aka The Thinker's Throne) this night when I came across an article by Robert J. Samuelson. In the piece, titled Prius politics is a green PR that might hurt US economy, Samuelson despairs at American politicians taking the green route to people's hearts. To start on a generous note. he makes one diligent observation that the politicians are making promises of pollution reductions whose projections reach well beyond what their respective tenures can command influence on. I'd pile it on and say I don't expect Governor Shwarzenegger, to stay alive till 2050, when he hopes California's pollution levels will drop below 80% of their 1990 levels.

But alas, that was the only witty part of the article. Witty, as in, uttered with wits truly in control. Witty, as in, not dim-witted. Keep in mind that Samuelson's very first book was Numbskull Factor: The Decline of Common Sense in America. Don't reach for that Amazon account just yet. For what caught my eye was further down the article:
"'s what the Congress should do:... eliminate tax subsidies... for housing, which push Americans towards ever-bigger homes. (Note: if you move to a home 25% larger and then increase energy efficiency by 25%, you don't save energy."

WHAT!?!? Dear Man, you are editor for the Washington Post and Newsweek! You are being published in ET! Been writing about business and economic issues since 1977! Whip out your pocket calculator and knowing that there exists a linear relationship between energy consumption and size of house, you ARE saving energy by living in a larger home! In fact, you are saving 100 - 125*0.75 = 6.25 percent energy!

Those of you who are following the real world scenario along with the maths have probably caught on to my gaffe: if there are immediately realizable energy savings on expansion of house-size, why, if everyone just broke one wall, built 25% extra capacity into their houses we should have 6.25% savings instantly, all across the country! Heck, why stop there! Let's just keep expanding until the US is covered by one giant roof coast-to-coast and we can approach zero-energy consumption (asymptotic behavior)!

But statistics don't work that way. I don't know the jargon for this, but there's a law that says distributions don't always expand conveniently; what applies in one set of behaviors won't necessarily scale in an expected manner. The linear curve can start to slope exponentially (up or down) as the independent variable (size of house) is changed disproportionately.

Anyhow, that got me actually reading the article. (Remember, I was sitting on the Thinker's Throne, not a library).
But like hippies, they're [Toyota Prius buyers] are making a loud statement: We're saving the planet;...
This helps explain why the Prius so outsells the rival Honda Civic Hybrid. Both have similar base prices, about $22,000, and fuel economy (Prius, 60 miles per gallon city/51 highway; Civic, 49 mpg city/51 highway).

Does this stink or does it reek? Forget the calculator this time. Seems like Samuelson was writing his autobiography in his first book. If 11 mpg (4.67658076 kilometers per liters), 22.45%, savings don't mean anything to this guy, if 49 mpg and 60 mpg sound even remotely "similar" to this guy, I wouldn't let him pass elementary school, much less write on business or politics, and definitely not on the environment.

ET, save your pink paper. From this guy, at least.

P.S.: I have tried to refrain from any political stances but you know how sometimes you are unintentionally biased against whichever side has more embarrassing idiots? Yes, that might have happened.

Footnote 1: Norwegian study shows that (size of house, its energy consumption) curve is almost a perfect straight line, while a British study shows that (number of family members, energy consumption) decays exponentially. Thus we assume (size of house, energy consumption) is a mix of the latter two, and therefore linear for practical purposes. To be particular, the first study shows that dependence on electricity levels off as size-of-house grows. Since households are moving towards electric solutions from coal (I wonder what, besides fireplaces) we can even have a leveling of the (size of house, energy consumption) curve.

Footnote 2: If you don't have food for thought yet, try this. Why does the average size of house increase? Besides just growing American mores. I can cite a greater than 4% increase in single-parent families, for one. But that still leaves a 62.43% difference to account for.

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